Monday, June 19, 2017

Genesis 15 - "Abram Assured and Re-assured"

If you are like me, then I suspect that you have times in your life when you need assurance and re- assurance that you are indeed doing the right thing or whether you are on the right road. Often we tend to become anxious and fearful of the future in the light of present developments. Those can be dangerous times, depending who we are listening to. The Bible always directs us seek God and His Word. “If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask God” (James 1:5). In the Christian ministry I have often needed to ask the Lord for assurance as to whether I was doing the right thing, and in doing so I have needed to search His Word. The counsel of Christian friends and colleagues who have drawn my attention to the Word of God in various matters has been invaluable.   

In the text before us we have a situation in which we find Abram in such a position, and the situation arises as a result of the happenings in Chapter 14 and even before that! Let’s take a step back and take it from the beginning. We had met Abram in Chapter 12. He was a pagan man from Ur in Mesopotamia. God, the true God and Creator of the Universe did the unthinkable and spoke to him and revealed Himself to him. He said to Abram, “Leave your  country and your family to go to a land which I will show you.” We are not told how it was that the LORD spoke, but it was such a powerful encounter that there was no doubt in Abram’s mind that the LORD God had spoken.

Abram’s move to the Promised Land would, however, not be without its challenges. We now must also remember that he is a descendant of Adam, whose original sin has affected the spiritual DNA of his entire offspring.  Abram leaves Ur, by God’s command and by His promise of blessing, but he also leaves Ur as a fallen man, and it is going to show.
  
We see these two sides of Abram’s nature, portrayed in Chapter 12.  One side portrays the real faith which he has in the God who has called him and who is going before him to the Promised Land [2:1-9]. The other side portrays his faithlessness, when upon arrival he faces a drought in Canaan. Instead of trusting God to provide, he is moved by   fear, anxiety, doubt and this causes him to go to Egypt for help. There he encounters   even more severe challenges, when he almost loses his wife and even his life [12:10-20]. Were it not for God’s sovereign love and grace to Abram, he would have never escaped from Egypt.

Chapters 13 and 14 are beautiful chapters as we see Abram resolutely trusting in his God. He makes a  good decision as to where he should live in the promised  land, while his nephew Lot  makes  a disastrous decision, based on what his eyes and his heart desire. He chooses to live close to the fallen world of Sodom. When Lot is taken captive and carried away   by an invading army, Abram, full of faith rescues him with the help of his God against an overwhelming army.  This remarkable victory does not go unrecognised, particularly by Melchizedek [1] the king of (Jeru) Salem, one of the many kings of a city state in that area. In the book of Hebrews we see that he prefigures the Lord Jesus Christ as a prophet- priest-king. Melchizedek recognizes a kindred spirit in Abram, and Abram does the same, as he pays homage to this king of Salem, in the giving of a tithe of everything that he had.  

Chapter 15 starts with these words, ”…after these things the Word of the LORD came to Abram.”  What things?  The reference is obviously to the recent wars in Chapter 14.  War has a very unsettling effect on people, creating anxiety about the future.  Am I going to be safe here? Does my family have a future here?  Abram’s greater concern however  relates to his family’s  future, with regard to his childless status: “O Lord GOD, what will you give me, for I continue childless… behold you have given me no offspring…” [vv.2, 3]. There is as yet no physical offspring to make this promise come true.  At this stage, the arrangement is for Eliezer of Damascus, a son born in his home, whom he had adopted, to be the heir.  Abram in his mind has  much reason  to be worried about  the promise of God.

This is the first time in the Bible that the oft repeated and majestic phrase is used, the Word of the LORD came to Abram…”.  When we are anxious the most reassuring voice is the voice of the Father. And so, Abram need not fear! The God who is faithful to His promises is directing Abram’s heart with certainty and progressively, and while He does this, He is teaching Abram many lessons along the way.  God does not dump His purposes on us all at one time. God is leading Abram, step by step. Our journey with God is designed for one step at a time, and always accompanied by faith in the promises of God. “Fear not Abram, I am your shield; your reward shall be very great.”  [v.1]   And God comes to him with the reassurance that His promise first given in Chapter 12 will stand. He will have his very own son [v. 4] and through him his offspring will be as numerous as the stars of the sky [v.5].  As a result of this   we read, “And he believed the LORD, and He counted it to him as righteousness” [v.6].  The first hurdle is overcome.  By faith in the  Word of God  his anxiety is settled. The apostle Paul in Romans 4 and Galatians 3  explains  and establishes  the great doctrine of  “justification by faith alone” on this  text.

In verse 7 we find the second hurdle. God also promised Abram that he would possess a land as his inheritance. [v.7] The recent conflict in the Jordan valley   has raised for him some serious questions about his future.    Again, Abram anxiously asks the LORD: “How am I to know that I will possess it?”   
The answer comes by way of another strong assurance from God.

God reminds him again, that He has brought him here from Ur.  [v.7]. God had brought him from that land of idols, from the kingdom of darkness, so to speak,   into this place where he will bless him and his descendants.   God cannot lie. He cannot go back on His words, but Abram struggles, and the typical manifestations of our fallen nature in such matters are, as already  indicated, doubt and anxiety. These are ultimately rooted in unbelief. We do not trust God to be true. This is a typical sin associated with the fall. There is very little difference between the doubts which the devil sows into the mind of Eve, “Has God really said?” [Gen. 3:1] and the doubt that Abram expresses here: “O Lord GOD, how am I to know that I shall possess it?”   The fact is that God has promised this to him at the very beginning [Gen. 12:2,3]  of his encounter with him.
O the grace and the patience of our God!  Knowing his weakness, God is willing  to bear with him and  provide   Abram  with more assurance.  He begins with these weighty words:  “I am the LORD.” [v.7] We hear these words again  in Exodus 6:2,6,8  and 20:2  in the context of the   giving of the 10  commandments, “I am the LORD your God, who brought you out of Egypt, out of the  house of slavery”.  I Am is here. Do not fear!  God is about to establish a strong bond, a covenant with Abram to provide Him with the needed assurance for the future.  Remember that Abram did not have  the full revelation that you and I  have,   living  as people  under the  full revelation of the New Covenant by which we have been made secure  with God  by the Holy Spirit  through  the knowledge  of Jesus’ death on the cross, for us! 

So, how did the assurance come?  In a way which Abram would have understood! A covenant!
God tells Abram to bring to him a three year old heifer, a three year old female goat, a three year old ram, a turtledove and a young pigeon [v.9].  Abram slaughters the animals and cuts them in half (except the birds) and lays the pieces opposite to one another.  This all is deeply significant.  Blood is to be shed, depicting the seriousness of this transaction!  Only clean, mature,   animals were to be used in this process, ranging from a heifer to a pigeon. The dove and the pigeon were included because the sacrifices must be within the reach of all.   But the cutting of the animal sacrifices is particularly significant, because it underlies the symbolism of covenant.  The Hebrew   idiom for making a covenant can be better translated as “cutting a covenant”.  In the ancient Near East   such covenants were common,  and the parties to such a covenant would walk between the pieces  of carcass and say to each other , “As it is to these animals , so it will be to me and to you if we break the terms of this covenant.”  Making a covenant was the strongest form of assurance in the Ancient Near East. It was thought of as unbreakable.  And so here, God was saying to Abram that by this act, He was absolutely committing Himself to Abram’s future in terms of the land.

The unclean birds  of prey that  wanted  to come  down on the carcasses [v.11]  are pertinent reminders   that the terms of the covenant,  and the people  of the covenant  are forever attacked  by evil, unclean forces, and it is a tiring  battle to keep these away .  Abram fell asleep, probably from exhaustion, and a dreadful and great darkness fell on him. [v12] Many of God’s people, in their battle to remain faithful to God in the midst of life’s trials have experienced the dark night of the soul, and again I remind you that it is only the God who calls you, who keeps you in such times! But when you have come through these times you will have found yourself to having been greatly strengthened in your assurance by this experience.

In the midst of the darkness comes the prophetic assurance of v. 13: “Know for certain…. God shows Abram a panorama of the history of his descendants.  He shows him that they would have to endure a four hundred year exile. This points forward to the times of the Exodus under Moses, when they had to suffer slavery in Egypt, and when  God was refining them and preparing them for the Promised land. They would learn that by suffering they would inherit the kingdom of God. But they would leave that   land and when they left, God promised Abram that they would come out with great possessions.  Abram would not see that day. He would have died years before in a good old age. Abram himself would not see that day, but the fourth generation would, and they would come out of Egypt, as numerous as sand on the seashore.   And  God is doing so much more than our simple minds can fathom. 
The Amorites, the people of the land of Canaan  in the meantime would be piling up their sins and iniquities (Behold the patience of God towards  sinners!), and then Abram’s descendants would return under Joshua as God’s instruments of wrath upon Canaan, and the land would be theirs. 

Thank God   then, that our days, that history , that the future  are in His hands.  There is nothing more reassuring  than that !

SUMMARY
The 15th  Chapter of Genesis  is  a key chapter  in the Bible, containing key  Bible doctrines : 

·          Strong emphasis on the doctrine of  Assurance,  which is rooted in the promises of God.  Twice in this chapter God answers Abram’s  fundamental questions  concerning his future.
·         Strong teaching on the nature  of  justification by faith, a key doctrine in the Bible by which we are reminded  that the faith by  which we  are justified  is possible , because of God’s prior working  in our life. Abram was called. That calling showed itself in a corresponding  faith in God, which  proved him to be a righteous and therefore a justified  man.
·         A strong reminder of the unbreakable nature  of the covenant. For the Christian the New Covenant in Christ’s blood   speaks of a better  covenant, since this  covenant is sealed  in the blood of the Son of God , who loved us and who gave Himself for us.
·         A strong reminder  that  our confidence in God is continuously assaulted and sometimes severely battered.
·         A strong reminder that  history and future is in God’s hands.  God tells  Abram accurately what must happen to his  people. 




[1] Lit.  “King of righteousness”

Monday, June 12, 2017

Acts 13:4- 12 : ”The True Gospel and a False Prophet”

Last  time  we began with Acts 13 and saw there in its introduction (vv. 1-3), a multicultural Church led by a multicultural leadership sending a multicultural team to evangelize a multi- cultural world.

Acts 13 introduces us to the first missionary journey which ends in Acts 14:28, when Paul and Barnabas  return to  Antioch in  Syria. It is the missionary effort of the early church  that   literally  results  in  an explosion of churches  planted in  the then known  world.

This reminds  us  of the life and times of John Calvin and his pastoral ministry in Geneva, Switzerland, in the middle of the 1500’s. The young Protestant movement was always at risk of being threatened and persecuted by the Roman Catholic church, and those kings and countries which supported that church. In Switzerland, John Calvin, who was actually a Frenchman, was safe, but he had a great interest and passion for the progress of the  gospel in  his fatherland. The Protestant Reformation spread rapidly through Europe and France. Much of we know of that time  is found  in the archives of Geneva. There are hundreds of letters to and from Calvin and  also from others to the underground church in France and whilst  in 1555 there were  only five underground churches in France yet  only  four years later in  1559, there are reportedly over 100 underground churches in France.  Seven years later, in 1562, there is mention being made of over 2,150 underground churches in France! 
This is typical of the history of  the great revivals. Truly, the Holy Spirit can do more in  5 minutes than we can do in  50 years! 

And so we see   Paul and Barnabas sent out from Antioch in Syria, with prayer and fasting, (v.3) and even more significantly, we see them “being sent out by the Holy Spirit” (v.4). Can they go wrong, being led by the Holy Spirit?  What we shall learn is that they cannot go wrong. God’s purpose  for the salvation of all His elect people in the world  will not ultimately be resisted. They will go in the power and assurance of God, and they will accomplish the purpose for which they have been sent out, but   we shall also learn that this does not mean that there will be no trouble and no resistance on the way. God’s  archenemy,  that fallen angel called Satan  will do whatever  he can to hinder the progress of the gospel.  In fact, we shall see it now here, in this text, as  Paul, Barnabas and John Mark engage upon  the first  leg  on this  journey – on the island of Cyprus.

As  we  move  forward  with this story we  have then  seen  that  there   are four important ingredients  in  getting  this mission on the map :  fasting and prayer,  the Holy Spirit’s calling, the laying on of hands by the church of the missionaries and the Holy  Spirit  sending them  and filling them for the purpose.

We cannot overstate the historical importance of this moment in Antioch with reference to the history of the world. From now on  the  whole world will be evangelized. 
Before this  call from the Holy Spirit there was no organized missionary activity to Asia Minor, Greece, or the Roman empire  or Spain. 
Before this Paul had not written any of his letters which were all the result of his missionary journeys.  In fact, 13 out of the 29 books of the New Testament were the result of the three missionary journeys described in the book of Acts.  

So, the church at Antioch was called by the Holy Spirit to the breaking of new ground. The church needed wisdom and insight from God regarding this new venture , and fasting with prayer  was  employed  for this purpose.  
What is  the purpose  of fasting? While much can be said, and whilst  reference can be made  on a key text in  Isaiah 58 on the nature  of true fasting and false fasting, we want to confine our comments to  this : 
In essence fasting with prayer is saying to God, “We want your blessing and counsel in this matter more than this food. Please hear our prayers. We will not give up until we have an answer from you.” Fasting has to do with desperation for God’s will to be done.  There are many ways to fast. Some may be partial, like Daniels’ fast when he only chose to eat vegetables.  Other fasts are complete fasts, like Moses’ fast and Jesus’  40 day fast.  In this case the whole congregation fasted (not sure exactly how) for the purpose of this missionary outreach.

At any rate, this  prompting of the Holy Spirit  together with  the  prayer and fasting of the church put Christianity  on a map, making it very soon the  dominant faith  of the Roman empire and of Europe, and of North Africa and territories in Asia. Today the Christian faith is found in virtually every country of the world. For instance, in 1900, there were approximately 10 million Christians in Africa. By 2000, there were 360 million. By 2025, conservative estimates see that number rising to 633 million. Those same estimates put the number of Christians in Latin America in 2025 at 640 million and in Asia at 460 million.[1] World missions was born in a worship meeting , accompanied  by  prayer and fasting, and it changed  the course of world history.

The first missionary journey   is primarily  focused on three  places:
(i)                 Cyprus  (13:4-12)
(ii)               Antioch in Pisidia (13:13- 52]  in south Galatia
(iii)             Iconium and Lystra  (14:1-23)

We begin in Cyprus.

Why Cyprus?  Well, Barnabas was  from there [4:36], and Cyprus would be the first  major island and country  and convenient stop over on  the way to the Roman empire and   away from the mainland where  the Christian faith had  found its beginnings.
And so, from Seleucia, about 20 kilometres from Antioch in Syria  they sail to Salamis in Cyprus. There they preached the gospel in the synagogue of the Jews (13:5).  In passing it is mentioned that John Mark assisted (Gr. hyperetes) them. They made their way (presumably preaching) through the island from east to west to Paphos (about 120 kilometers). It is here, Luke reports,  that  the first opposition appears.

The opposition is in the form of a man called  Bar-Jesus, (lit. ‘son of Jesus’  or ‘son of salvation’),  or as Luke calls alternatively  him, “Elymas”, meaning  sorcerer or  magician (v.8) Do not let his name,  Bar Jesus, fool you. He is no saviour at all.  He is in fact an anti- Christ. He is anti- gospel. In fact, he's the very opposite of what the Lord Jesus and His gospel stands for.

We find him in the company of an influential politician, the Roman pro- consul Sergius Paulus, who is   said to be a man of intelligence.  Sergius summoned Paul and his colleagues  to hear the Word of God,  and this  Jewish  false prophet Bar Jesus,  alias  Elymas the sorcerer  knew that from his twisted perspective (and from Paul’s perspective,  ‘a son of the devil’ ) trouble was looming, and therefore  he sought to  actively turn Sergius  away from the faith.  The devils in Jesus’ day always knew  that  the truth which He spoke  would undo the lies and darkness  which  they   represented  [ e.g. Mark 1:21-28;29-34;3:11 ; 5:1-20 etc.]

And so we read that Saul, who now becomes Paul, filled with the Holy Spirit  (v.9  cf.  v.4)  challenges this Elymas, and he  calls him what he is, “ you son of the devil, you enemy of righteousness, full of deceit and villainy”“ will you not stop making crooked the straight  paths of the Lord ?” …  this is a reference to Isaiah 40:3, about making a straight path for the  good news  which the anticipated Messiah would bring.  This prophecy is associated  with  the  coming of John the Baptist.  John came to prepare the straight paths for Jesus, whose forerunner he had become. Here also are Paul and his team making a straight path for  Sergius  to hear  about the straight and narrow way in Christ, and this false prophet  tries  to turn Sergius Paulus away from that  straight path to follow his  crooked path.

So, here is the gospel and there is  the  opposition. Here is the power of God,   the Holy Spirit  working through Paul and  his team,  and there is the magic   power of the devil through Elymas.  Who will win? 
The answer is easy. God wins, because God wanted Sergius Paulus  to believe and be  saved!  God wins because He is the sovereign of the Universe, and not the devil.  God wins  because  He has all the nations in His purpose. This man from Cyprus among  many others from Cyprus , must  be  a part of the nations  that will worship  at the footstool of the throne of their Creator! [Rev.5:9; 7:9] . Elymas like every devil and son of the devil must bow the knee to Jesus, as in this case  the Sovereign Lord strikes him  with a judicial blindness… “immediately mist and darkness fell upon him…”  and he was helpless .

Sergius Paulus,  the  Roman pro- consul  in Cyprus, who  by the preaching of the gospel was sought out by God, not only sees this which is happening to  Elymas, BUT  he  is also astonished at the  teaching of the Lord (v. 12),  AND HE BELIEVED!  He  embraced the truth as it is in Jesus.  What a wonderful blessing  and encouragement that must have been to Barnabas and Saul at the beginning of the first  missionary journey. 
Make no mistake! They are going to need this  encouragement and reminder  of the  wonderful sovereignty of God and of the Holy Spirit who has sent them, who goes before them and who continues  to lead them on this journey.  There   will be some  severe trials along the way  to come.  They need  to have a  strong assurance and reminder  that God is with them…

In Conclusion  :  A few  things to think about ...

      1.      The importance of having a calling for a fruitful missionary  work. This  needs  to  be  rooted in the inward call of the Holy Spirit, and it ought to  be accompanied by the united praying and fasting of the church, which also recognizes such a call by the laying on of hands.

     2.      The importance of   the church praying for and supporting such a work. May I remind you  the church members  that at the most basic and fundamental level,  you need to be  involved in the ministry of prayer,  as we consider the missionary  expansion of God in this world and in our generation.   Paul  in his epistles  always asked for the church’s help in prayer . Surely we cannot do less.  From a human perspective  then I would fear to send anyone into the mission field without  the help of a praying church.

3.     Remember that  we cannot keep  the best and most  gifted people  for ourselves.  The tendency is always there to keep   those gifted  people like Saul and  Barnabas for ourselves. I don't want Barnabas and Saul  to leave my church!  But the worshiping church at Antioch said, ‘We will and must  send the best we have into the mission field  for the glory of God and for the sake of His ever expanding kingdom.’

4. Remember  that  though the Gospel of God will always triumph, it will also  always  be resisted   by Satan, as long as  this  age will last . 

Monday, June 5, 2017

Genesis 14: 1- 24 War and Grace

Genesis 14 begins with the first recorded war in the Bible. It happens in that same Middle East, twenty centuries before Christ, and it still remains a volatile region twenty centuries after Christ. 
Since the beginning of human history it appears that no place on the earth has been subjected to as many wars as this piece of land upon the face of the earth.  
Mankind in general will easily resort to conflict, and war is always the ultimate conflict.  
Human nature simply has not changed since the fall.  Job comments: “For affliction does not come from the dust, nor does trouble spout from the ground, but man is born to trouble as the sparks fly upward.”  [Job 5:7]. 
Trouble and conflict in this fallen world is inevitable.
Last time we noted that there was a conflict between Abram’s herdsmen and Lot’s herdsmen, but they resolved their conflict by separating   from one another.  That is one way of doing it, and the history of the world has many such examples. Europe’s many wars have led to many of its peoples separating and migrating to other parts of the world.  And so Lot and Abram separate over conflict. Lot, who was given the first choice of the land by Abram, chose the well -watered Jordan valley [13:10]. Little did he know that this region would not only soon become  a battleground, but also the breeding ground for widespread sexual immorality of all kinds. This would result in a terrible judgement of God, particularly upon Sodom and Gomorrah, major cities of that valley. 
Abram, by contrast appears to have lived in peace.

We begin with the first recorded war…
Chedarlaomer, the ancient equivalent of Saddam Hussein of Iraq, along with the help of four neighbouring kings invades the area in which Lot now lives. The names of the four kings are :
  • Amraphel king of Shinar (Babylonia - see 10:10, 11:2 part of modern Iraq)
  • Arioch king of Ellasa, (modern Turkey or northern Syria 
  • Chedarlaomer, king of Elam (part of modern Iran). He leads the alliance. 
  • Tidal, king of Goiim-  the Hittites (modern Turkey )

These  four invading kings fought against  the five kings of the Jordan valley :
  •  Bera king of Sodom  (whose name means in evil or characterised by evil)
  •  Birsha king of Gomorrah (whose name means in wickedness or characterised by wickedness)
  •  Shinar king of Admar (whose name means  Sin, the moon god is father)
  •  Shemeber king of Zeboiim (whose name means, “The name is powerful”
  •  Bela (that is Zoar).

We are told that these five kings in the Jordan valley had been subjected to the rule of Chedorlaomer of Elam[1]  for twelve years. In the thirteenth year they rebelled against his rule and therefore Chedorlaomer came to punish them, along with his alliance   in the 14th year [14:4]. 

The mother of all battles[2] was eventually fought in the valley of Siddim – the region of the Salt sea or Dead sea [14:8]. The kings of the Jordan valley, where Lot lived, lost the battle and began to flee and we read that some of them even fell into the tar or bitumen pits, a  reminder of  the fact that this is an oil rich area.   

Chedorlaomer and his alliance looted  the cities of  Sodom and Gomorrah,  and in that process they also  took Lot and  his  possessions.   Again, remember that Lot had chosen this place because it appeared  attractive to his eyes, and yet  now, in a short space of time, he lost everything  and it  now seemed that he would become a slave  of these invading nations. This is where the story becomes interesting!

Abram, living with his allies at the oaks of Mamre the Amorite, is blissfully unaware of all these happenings in his peaceful surroundings, when he   receives word of these things. He could have shrugged his shoulders and said, “Well, that was Lot’s choice. I could have told him so…”, and he could have left Lot in his misery.  Instead, he mobilised his 318 trained men [14:14] and also some his Amorite allies [14:24] and he went to rescue his nephew against heavy odds. Abram sets off with his army and he defeated them, recovering   all the loot and people,   and also Lot and his people and possessions [14:16].

We are beginning to get to know the pattern of  Abram's thinking and actions. He is a man with clay feet, subject to error and temptation and failure just like the rest of us, but there is an   observable and an uncommon display of grace in his life and in this instance he was like the Lord Jesus  toward Lot. Jesus had mercy on us  while we were yet sinners.[Rom. 5:8]  And like the Lord Jesus he  will defeat his enemies,  delivering us from their power  and freeing us by the  power of his grace, restoring all that we had lost. 

ABRAM  AND MELCHIZEDEK, KING OF SALEM [14:17-24]

But the story does not end here. In fact it comes to an unexpected climax.  The defeated king of Sodom whose name, Bera means  'characterized by evil' comes  to  meet Abram in the valley of Shaveh (the King’s Valley), but before we can figure out  what  will happen here,  another mysterious king, Melchizedek (lit. king of righteousness)  the king of Salem (i.e. Jerusalem - Shalom – peace; Hebr. 7:2- see also Psalm  76:2)  comes  on to the scene. 

Canaan, at  this time  was a confederation  of  kings/  rulers  of  so called  city states.  The king of the city state of Sodom and the king of the city state of Salem come to meet Abram after his victory. Word certainly gets around concerning Abram’s victory! But there is a profound contrast between the two kings. 
The one is a representative of God and the other is a self- centered politician. 
Melchizedek, king of Salem,  gets the first chance to have a word with Abram. And it is deeply significant. He presents him bread and wine [14:18].  Even more significant are the words with which he greets Abram:  “Blessed be Abram by God Most High, Possessor of heaven and earth. And blessed be God Most High, who has delivered your enemies into your hand” [14:19,20]. 
Before   the evil king of Sodom can have a word with Abram,   there is the Word of God from the mouth of the king who at this time is  God’s representative, a priest of the Most High. This shows us that God at this time already had His people everywhere.  The significance of this meeting lies in the perspective given to Abram. Who is it that gave Abram the victory? It was God most High (El Elyon), Possessor (Owner/Creator) of heaven and earth,  “who has delivered your enemies into your hand.”  The temptation to have himself applauded by earthly kings is  thereby immediately taken away. Instead, he hears :  “Abram, to God be the glory, great things He has done!”

But who is this  Melchizedek, the king of Salem   who is also priest of God Most High?  He is mentioned in   Psalm 110, and then  in Hebrews 6:20 where  he is connected to the Lord Jesus… who   is “ a priest forever, after  the order of Melchizedek”
In Hebrews Chapter 7 follows an exposition of this fact and that  is all we find written of him  in the Bible. 
Melchizedek is a total mystery of a man. There is no record of  his  genealogy.“He is without father or mother, or genealogy, having  neither beginning of days nor end of life” [Hebr. 7:3].   We are not told how he became   a priest of the one true God. It is simply stated as a fact, and Abram recognizes him as such. 
The Jewish priesthood does not trace their line from him, but from Aaron and from the Levitical priesthood.  But he is, of course a priest of the Most High God long before the Jewish nation existed. Please note that the Lord Jesus, our eternal High priest ALSO did not come from the priestly tribe of Levi. He was from the line of Judah, and God   Almighty overruled and appointed Him as our special high priest.  
Furthermore, also note that Melchizedek had no successors to his priestly office. His priesthood was unique. In the same way the ministry of Jesus had no, and needed no successors. His work was unique and perfect. It was done. It was finished. 
And then notice also how Abram approached Melchizedek. He presented him with a tithe of everything he had captured from the enemy. By this Abram was saying that everything he owed belonged to God Most High, the Creator of heaven and earth, whom Melchizedek represented. This is all deeply instructive and significant.   Melchizedek is the king of righteousness and he is the king of Salem (peace). He  foreshadows  what will happen later under king David  of Jerusalem, a thousand years later when  the temple  in Jerusalem  shall become  the place that  God   would  call His dwelling place on earth. 
Approximately another thousand years later it shall be the place  where  the Lord Jesus in His triumphal entry  is  recognized as the Son of David. In Jerusalem  He, as our High priest and the offering lamb  at the same time, offers  Himself up  on the cross for the forgiveness of our sins.  He is the   true Priest ,Prophet  and  King of  all true Jews and gentiles.
Melchizedek, long before  all this, was already the indication and promise  of the reign and rule of the coming Messiah. 

BACK TO  THE  KING OF SODOM.

The difference between the king of righteousness and the king of evil could not be greater. 
The King of Salem came with a special fellowship meal, and he came with a blessing. 
The king of Sodom came with nothing. He came, not to primarily thank Abram but to tell Abram, "Give me the persons, but take  the goods for yourself” [14:21].  He made his demands as if he was the king in charge. But in reality he was the defeated king, and Abram had the moral right to decide what was going to happen to the spoils of war. To the victor belong the spoils. Abram owes him nothing at all.

Note  Abram’s reply, “I have lifted my hand to the LORD, God Most High, Possessor  of heaven and earth, that I would not  take a thread or  a  sandal strap or anything that is yours ,lest  you  should say ‘I have made Abram rich’.  I will  take  nothing but what  the young men have eaten and the share of the  men who went with me – let  Aner, Eshcol and Mamre take their share .”  [14:22-24].  Abram will  not  be indebted to an evil king. 
His reward is with God.  

REFLECTIONS

The  history of our world is  the history of war and grace, of curses and blessings,of  naked  self - centered materialism, the trust  in things and political systems,   and of faith  in God, of allegiance to God Most High, Possessor of Heaven and Earth.

Where do you belong? 
Where are you rooted?  
With whom are you spiritually and actually associated? 
Who is speaking into your life, Bera or Melchizedek? 
Who will make you rich? The world  or the Lord Jesus?

The world is  divided into  two  kinds of people, and these lines are not drawn along the racial, ethnic, linguistic divide.   Biblically speaking they are drawn along the lines of those that trust God and love God, and those that trust in themselves and their political systems   and  material goods. 
They are  either people of war or of  grace.  That division has existed since the beginning of time, since the days of  wicked Cain and  righteous Abel. 
Today if you hear his voice , says the writer to the Hebrews,  in his gospel appeal,  do not harden your hearts as in the rebellion [Hebr. 3:7-8,15; 4:7]. Now is the day of our salvation. 

Examine yourselves, to see whether you are in the faith. 2 Corinthians 13:5
Amen




[1] Not far from Ur where Abram had come from
[2] A term used  by the Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein.  On January 6, 1991, in a speech marking the 70th anniversary of the modern Iraqi Army, he boasted that Kuwait was eternally part of Iraq and predicted a long struggle in the Persian Gulf against the “tyranny represented by the United States.” Saddam told the people of Iraq: “The battle in which you are locked today is the mother of all battles…Our rendezvous with victory is very near, God willing.” http://www.thisdayinquotes.com/2010/01/saddam-hussein-and-mother-of-all.html

Monday, May 29, 2017

Genesis 13:1-18 Making the Right Choices based on God’s Promises

The story and the life of Abram, who became Abraham [17:5] is recorded for us in Genesis Chapters 12 -25.  

In Chapter 12 we read of God’s call of Abraham to leave his country and kindred to go to a land which God would show him. Along with the call comes a set of wonderful and great promises: “I will make of you a great nation, and I will bless you and make your name great, so that you will be a blessing” [Gen.12:2]. He takes his nephew Lot, his brother’s son with him to the Promised Land called Canaan,   which is named after the cursed son of Ham.   God was planning to reverse the curse in this land and to make it a land of promise. All this foreshadows God’s great plan in terms of the new creation, the new heaven and the new earth [Rev. 21:1].   At Christ’s second coming the curse with which the earth has been cursed in Genesis 3 will be finally lifted, “and the earth will be filled with the knowledge of the glory of the LORD as the waters cover the sea.” [Hab.2:14]  

As he arrives in the Promised Land however, a challenge confronts him and his family. There is a terrible drought, and he leaves there to seek temporary relief in Egypt. This presented him with further troubles, relating to his wife Sarai.  He almost lost his wife to Pharaoh due to a   lie concerning her which he told Pharaoh   in Egypt, when he said that she was his sister. But by the grace of God he was helped. We read of this in vv.  11- 20 and we asked the question whether Abram did right to go to Egypt for help, when he could have in fact relied upon the Lord to sustain him in Canaan in the midst of this drought, as He would indeed sustain Moses and Israel in their 40 year long journey through the desert into the Promised Land. All this reminds us that Christians, the called-out people of God, on their way to our heavenly city can indeed make bad choices, based on a lack of faith and a lack of biblical thinking and motivated by fear. If it were not for the grace and mercy of our faithful and merciful God, who forgives us in Christ we would never find our way out of Egypt back into the Promised Land. 

With that unhappy experience in Egypt behind him he, in Chapter 13,  returns  with all his family to  the promised land  where  he  finds his next challenge, and   in this challenge we shall find him a wiser  man. “So Abram went up from Egypt…into the Negev” (v.1).

1.                   The first thing we learn is that Abram returned to Canaan.  He left the place of compromise and deceit and he returned to the place of promise. As he retraces his steps we are reminded that this is the way of repentance.  The biblical idea of repentance[1], both in the Greek and the Hebrew,   contain the thought of turning away from one’s error or sin. Abram turns away from Egypt and returns to God’s design for him.  That is what you must do that when you have fallen into sin. You repent by confessing your sin, and by leaving the place of sin, and by returning to the place of blessing. That is the story of the prodigal son [Lk 15:11-32].  Zacchaeus the tax collector [Luke 19:1-10] demonstrated his repentance when he confronted by Jesus. He confessed his sin. He went to the people from whom he had unfairly exacted tax money and he paid them back with interest, and from then on he walked with God.  

Abram returned and he came to “Bethel, to the place where his tent had been at the beginning, between bethel and Ai, to the place where he had made an altar at the first, and there he called on the Name of the LORD.” [13:3, 4 cf. 12:8]. Griffith Thomas says: “Whenever we backslide there is nothing else to do but to come back by the old gateway of genuine repentance and simple faith.”[2] 

So, Abram went back to the place where he had first worshiped God in the Promised Land, and there he found grace in the eyes of the Lord.  We need to stop here for a moment and consider a fact that runs through the biblical narrative.  We often find that it is not the enemies of God, but God’s people themselves who are the cause of the problems that exist in this world. Many a time we  who are the church are quick to condemn the sin and hypocrisy of the world  around us, but fail to take the log out of our own eyes [See Romans 2:21-24]. If it had not been for God who had intervened on Abram’s behalf in Egypt there is no telling where he would have found himself at the end of the day.  And so it is with us.

So then, there between Bethel and Ai, Abraham found himself in that place in which he would meet with God once again. This is important for it influences the story line which follows from here.    

2.                  A new challenge arises, and it comes from his nephew, Lot. Another challenge!  The life of faith is rarely straight forward!  Now, both of these men, in the course of time, had grown very wealthy (v.2). Between them they had so much livestock that they found it hard to live together any longer.   We read in vv. 6-7 that “the land could not support both of dwelling together; for their possessions were so great that they could not dwell together, and there was strife between Abram’s herdsmen and the herdsmen of Lot.”  This is a real moment of tension, and sinful people can easily make such a situation worse.  But, at this moment Abram was living in the recent experience of the grace of God extended to him, and because of this he has become wiser and therefore instead of angry words and strife he can also extend grace to Lot.  Do you see what experiencing God does to you?  Knowing the grace of God experientially helps us to be more thoughtful, self-denying, and kind.   And so Abram took the initiative in vv.8-9 and he spoke to Lot about the problem. And this time he makes the right choice based on the promises of God.  These are the words of a man who had been humbled by God!  He was back in that place of trusting in the promises of God. Now remember that God and not   Lot had been promised to be the father of a great nation [12:2] (the mystery of election). He had been promised this when as yet he had no child and no son to carry on the family line. 
Lot would later become the father of the Ammonites and the Moabites, by an incestuous relationship with his daughters [19:30-38]. These tribes would become sworn enemies of Israel in time, but Abram believed that this land was his by God’s promise. Therefore he could say to Lot in a peaceful way, “Listen! Take what you want. I will take what is left!” Abram kept reminding himself whose he was, remembering who had accepted him and who loved him. Lot was not born of the chosen seed of the woman, and so we will see in time that Lot will become an obstacle to Israel.  Therefore this parting actually becomes a blessing. It becomes necessary.  This is worth reflecting on.  As Christians we often think face situations   in which we do not realise that those who are close to us can actually become obstacles in our Christian progress, particularly if they prove to be self- centred pursuers of their own agendas and not of God’s agenda, and this leads to a parting of the ways.  Fighting on every hill is not good. We have to choose our battle carefully. We need to be as peaceful as we can afford to be.  David had too much blood on his hands.  Let God sort Lot out!  This is Abram’s confidence. By faith he knew that the last page had not yet been written, and he could trust   God in this. And so he made the right choice based on the promises of God. When your eyes are on Jesus and His promises for you, then you will not easily be tempted to live for the quick fix!  Let the Gospel, the Good News of Jesus direct your agenda. Keep Christ before your eyes. David says in Psalm 16:8, “I have set the LORD always before me, because He is at my right hand, I shall not be shaken.”  

And so Abram humbly says to his nephew, “You choose.” The Bible says that “whoever humbles himself will be exalted. [Matt 23:12]. Remember this principle as you live your life in this world! And as a church we must also remember this. As we participate in kingdom work, remember that the best way to remove those obstacles which prevent our reforming and building and expanding is to humbly walk with God, and according to His Word, and to be like the Lord Jesus, meek, just and patient.

Now Lot’s choice was based on what his eyes saw and desired. It was purely physical, and selfish. He quickly grabbed that which he thought was best:  “He saw that the Jordan valley was well watered everywhere like the garden of the LORD, like the land of Egypt…” [v. 10]. Little did he   know that this was the land of Sodom and Gomorrah, filled with wicked great sinners against the LORD” [v. 13]. Little did he know this this land was soon to be judged with fire and brimstone.
“Abram settled in the land of Canaan, while Lot settled among the cities of the valley and moved his tents as far as Sodom.”[v.12]   so, it is clear now that Lot had abandoned the land of promise in which the operative principle was to live by faith in God’s promises. Abram, by contrast   will be blessed and he will become the sole inheritor of the land.

3.  The Lord Confirms The Blessing Coming On Abram After Lot Had Separated From Him. [Vv. 14-17] All the land that you see I will give to you and your offspring forever.”  In Chapter 15:18 God will provide specific details. The land will be from the Nile to the Euphrates.  The land would actually stretch far beyond Abram’s physical sight.   Again we learn the principle that we walk by faith and not by sight.  God promises exceedingly, abundantly, above that which the eyes can see. [Eph. 3:20, 21]

Abram’s offspring eventually received a substantial portion of the promised land of Canaan under Joshua, but not all.  Under David more of the land was taken, and under Solomon it became a reality…but not really, because God had even more in mind.  Abram is going to be the father of much more than a people who will a territory in the Middle East.  Abram’s offspring would be heir of the world.  [Rom. 4:13]. So here we are!  Children of Abram, offspring of the promises of God in Windhoek.  A vast multitude is being called out from every corner of the world, and all those who profess faith in Jesus are of the promised offspring of Abram, the father of our faith.  

As we speak from the perspective of this chapter, the Canaanites and Perizzites were still living in the land, and yet God told Abram to consider it as his own.   They would not be there much longer.  “So Abram moved his tent and came and settled by the oaks of Mare at Hebron, and there he built an altar to the Lord” (v.18). He is surrounded by enemies, but what God promises He will do. Nothing will separate Abram from the love of God, not even his temporary unbelief and lapse of faith in Egypt. God has promised. He is faithful, and Abraham knows it, and he is thankful and humbled because of it.

CONCLUSION:

Dear child of God, I don’t know where you are in your life’s journey. It is possible for you to be here today in the presence of God’s people and of God and yet, in your heart, be in Egypt. To you God says, “Repent and return!” Humble yourselves in the sight of God and He will lift you up.

Dear Child of God, trust in God. Be patient! Be kind to those who disagree with you. Let go of the aggressive pursuit of your own desires, and your restlessness and unbelief.  God is in charge.     In Christ you have received far better promises than Abram. You do not see it now, but by faith fix your eyes on them and on Jesus.  All things are yours.  This inheritance is ours. It is secured for you  by the Lord Jesus Christ and  it is guaranteed to you  by the Holy Spirit.  
Do not fear the strongholds of Satan and the kingdoms of men.  
Christ has already conquered them by his life and death. 
Walk and live in this this world in the confidence of the gospel! 
Amen.   




[1] Greek: metanoia, literally to have a change of mind; Hebrew: There are two words for repentance in the Old Testament Hebrew.  One word is “nacham” which means “to be sorry” or “to regret” but the overwhelming majority of the time it is used (391 times) it means “turn” or “return” (“shuwb”).
[2] Quoted in: Philip Eveson: The Book of Origins, p. 261, Welwyn Commentary, Evangelical Press 2001 

Sunday, May 21, 2017

John 4:1-26 True and False Worship

“But the hour is coming, and is now here when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and in truth, for the Father is seeking such people to worship Him. God is  Spirit  and those  who worship Him  must worship  in spirit  and  truth.” (John 4:23,24)

You will remember that Jesus spoke  these words  to a  Samaritan woman  at a well at Sychar, near the field that Jacob gave to his son Joseph.His disciples has gone to town to buy some food. He was tired and thirsty, and He asked the woman for some water since she had the equipment to draw water from the well. 

This episode starts an unusual and a remarkable conversation.  It was unusual in that Jews and Samaritans were not on speaking terms, due to longstanding historic hostilities. It is unusual because this woman is   a prostitute. She has slept with many men, and Jesus points out that the man that she is with at the moment is not her husband. But as Jesus asks   for water from this Samaritan woman   we find here an amazing conversation on the nature of true worship.

Now the Samaritans were descendants of Jews of the Northern kingdom of Israel, after 722  BC after the conquest of their territory by the Assyrians. They had subsequently interbred with the nations around them, and had also developed a mixed religion. They had built a separate worship place on Mt. Gerizim and they rejected all of the Old Testament except their version of the first five books of Moses. That religion therefore contained similarities   with the Jewish faith, but it had mixed in elements of idol worship and the embracing of a system of worship that was far from the true worship of God. This story then is about a woman who learned the meaning and practice of true worship   as she came to know the Saviour, the Lord Jesus Christ. It was a divine appointment. It was a life changing experience. It was a movement in which she moved from the death of the soul caused by false worship into the life giving knowledge of Spirit revealed truth as it is in Jesus.

So  then  the basic  fact here is  that  Jesus  is  talking to a woman who is lost  in a system  of false worship. To begin with, she did not know who Jesus was. He was, to her just another Jew, but there was already   something that drew her attention to the fact that He was different. He spoke to her, a Samaritan and a woman,  and thus her surprised response:  “How is it that you, a Jew, ask a drink of me, a woman of Samaria?” [v.9]. He asked her for some water, which came from an ancient well that Jacob, whom the Samaritans also owned as their ancestor and father, had dug.  

But Jesus was going to do more than just ask for water from the well of their common ancestor. He was going to make her a radical counter offer. He would offer her   living water. That thought fascinates her. Living water?  Water which shall never make you experience thirst again?  That sounds like a good idea. “Sir, give me this water, so that I will not be thirsty or have to come here to draw water” [v.15].  But she does not really understand who Jesus is and what He is talking about. He needs to take her a little further.

“Go and call your husband…”. Here begins the process of helping her to see that He is more than just a tired and thirsty Jew looking for water.  She answers, “I don’t have a husband.” Jesus replies, “That’s right. But you’ve had five, and the man who you are with now is not your husband.” She was shocked!  How did He know this? There is only one possibility.   “Sir, I perceive that you are a prophet”!   A prophet is a spokesman of God. The true prophets of God always challenged the nation to return to true worship. False prophets always led the nation into false worship.  So this discussion and Jesus unusual knowledge of her domestic circumstances leads to the heart of the matter for which Jesus had come to speak to her: the   nature of true and false worship. False worship leads away from God. True worship leads us to God.

She initiates the discussion. She says in v. 20: “Our fathers worshiped on this mountain; and you [Jews] say that in Jerusalem is the place where people ought to worship.”  Please note, that from this point onwards Jesus never goes back to the issue of her adulterous life. He had come to the topic that was really important.
At this point it is important to understand  that the whole world may be divided into two classes of people: true worshipers and false worshipers, and Jesus is now here to make the vital distinction between the two, and we shall learn that that vital distinction lies in Himself.

Verse 21   is the turning point:  “Jesus said to her, ‘Woman, believe me, the hour is coming when neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem will you worship the Father.”  Jesus says   that true worship is not confined to a location or place. At one time Jesus pointed out that those that were worshiping  in the temple of God in Jerusalem (Matthew 15:8)  were  indulging in false worship.  “This people honour me with their lips but their heart is far from me; in vain do they worship me.”  True worship comes not from attending a holy place. True worship originates in the heart. So Jesus reminds the woman that true worship is not about her mountain of worship (Mt. Gerizim) or the Jewish mountain of worship (Mt Zion).  

How you worship is vastly more important than where you worship !

Verse 22 introduces the question of whom or what you worship. “You worship what you do not know; we worship what we know, for salvation is from the Jews.”  Here Jesus begins to make the vital distinction between true worship and false worship. The Samaritans rejected all the Old Testament except for their version of the books of Moses. Their knowledge of God was deficient and so their worship was deficient.  
Incidentally, the Jewish system of worship, though they had the full revelation of God was also deficient (see Nicodemus in John 3) because they failed to see in their full Scriptures  the Lord Jesus Christ as their Messiah. Jesus had to point out  in John 5:39,40:  “You search the Scriptures because you think that in them you have eternal life; and it is they that bear witness about me, yet you refuse to come to me that you may have life.”  

True worship comes from the heart and it must be based on a true perception of God in Christ. V.23 brings the discussion to a climax: “But the hour is coming, and now is here , when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth.”  

What does it mean to worship in spirit and truth?  

For the answer to this we need to go back to  John 3 and the conversation that Jesus had with Nicodemus.  Here Jesus shows  Nicodemus that true spiritual worship, based on  true spiritual understanding   begins when you are born again  (John 3:1-8). It is the Holy Spirit that makes the crucial difference. He helps our spirits to truly worship, because He shows us who Jesus is.   It is the Holy Spirit who gives life to our spirits, and so when Jesus says that true worshipers worship in spirit, He means that true worship only comes from spirits that are made alive by the Holy Spirit
No amount of church attendance, singing, raising hands, hearing good preaching will make you a true worshiper. You must be born again by the work of the Holy Spirit. He must change your idolatrous heart into a heart that loves God your Father and Jesus as your Mediator and the Holy Spirit as   your Life Giver. That is what the Bile teaches. That is what you must believe and practice. Real worship comes from the spirit within and is based on true views of God.

Worship must have heart and worship must have head. Worship must engage your emotions and worship must engage your thoughtHead without heart produces dead orthodoxy.  Heart without head produces emotionalism that easily leads to spiritual deception.

True worship comes from people who know God and who love Him deeply! 

Let us investigate  the word  worship  a little  further, to help us  to see what true  worship  leads us to do.

The word “worship” comes from an ancient Anglo- Saxon word “weorthscipe“.   It literally means to attribute worth to someone – hence “worth – ship“.

The following words   are commonly translated as worship  in the English language:
(i)     The Hebrew word   “shachah” and the Greek word “proskuneo“, indicate a bowing down; a prostration before God.
(ii)   The Hebrew word “abodah”   and the Greek words   “leitourgia” and “latreia”, which indicate   the rendering of service to God.

Worship  is both,  a bowing down and a rendering of service to God. The act of worship has to do with yielding oneself up for the service of God.

Worship is therefore an attitude and an act. The worshiper knows who he/she is before God, and because of this they prostrate themselves before God. This attitude of the heart ultimately governs  your attitude  in  worship. This is what leads to a life that worships God in spirit and in truth (John 4:23, 24).

This is at the heart  of  our  Sunday worship. The seventh day in particular is designed to focus our attention on God, and having bowed before Him in worship, and rightly instructed in the Holy Scriptures  we disperse to serve Him   throughout the week as   we live consciously in the presence of God as we work, eat, play and sleep.  

APPLICATION: A right understanding of God leads to a life of worship!

Unfortunately  the meaning  of  biblical worship  has been  watered down by the contemporary emphasis  on  worship  as ‘ singing’. Much emphasis in Namibian church is on the worship leader and the worship group. A lot of money is spend in purchasing sound equipment , instrument , lights  and smoke machines so that the  worship service begins to look more like a  disco  or a  concert.   Music produces feelings  and many Namibian people confuse feelings with the Holy Spirit . Many of our Namibian churches sing so much that they are tired when it comes to careful listening   and obeying of the Bible. 

Biblical worship has been watered down as many of our churches do not place the correct preaching of the Bible, the Word of God at the center of their worship services. And sadly, even when the Bible is opened so often the Bible is not preached reverently and passionately and in the power of the Holy Spirit, because the preachers themselves are not worshipers.

The truth is that worship is more than Sunday attendance and singing.  It is the living out of the truth that we sing about on Sunday. Sunday worship moves beyond the sermon, the ordinances, the prayers and songs of adoration into a life of worship throughout the week. It is living out our lives in worship for the  rest of the week, as we obey God  in everything.

True worshipers become better husbands, wives, parents and children. 
True worshipers become better employers and employees. 
True worshipers are humbled by the Word of God. They are filled with the fruit of the Spirit. Under the Word of God they are transformed into  a people that love God and  who love  the church and who love people  and who love this lost world. 
They love to share the gospel with people like   the Samaritan woman  who is caught up in idol  worship. 
They are eager  to  introduce them to  Jesus who frees them by His Holy  Spirit from false worship.